Creativity Thursdays

A few weeks ago, I asked my students:

“Do schools kill creativity?” 

It was interesting to hear their different perspectives on the topic. Then together we watched Sir Ken Robinson’s famous Ted Talk on the matter and specifically analyzed this quote:

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So we decided to calculate how much class time is dedicated to the development of literacy skills, and match that amount of time for the development of creativity skills. We discovered that 1/5 of our time should be dedicated to creative pursuits – in the form of Creativity Thursdays.

Before jumping in with both feet, we took some time to unpack the concept of creativity. What it is? What are the different forms? What is it connected to?  Then we put together a menu of creative endeavours that students could choose from each week:

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The day before our first “Creativity Thursday” the students were abuzz with excitement! Trying to decide what to do… who to do it with… how long it would take… the materials they would need…. it was amazing to watch! There was so much thinking, planning and – well – creativity, even before the actual day started!

For the first few weeks I decided my role would be to “look for learning”. I wanted to walk around and document evidence of learning that was happening through their creative endeavours. What I noticed was amazing! Not only were students developing their Learner Profile attributes, PYP attitudes and ATL skills, but there was also rich, authentic engagement with literacy, math, humanities and science!

Here is what I saw:

Learner Profile

Students were being caring, thinkers, reflective and risk-takers.

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Attitudes

Students were showing appreciation, enthusiasm, creativity, confidence, commitment, curiosity and independence.

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ATL Skills

Students were making group decisions, accepting different roles, cooperating and resolving conflicts. (social skills)

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Students were develop gross and fine motor skills and practicing safe and informed choices. (self-management skills)

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Students were listening, speaking, presenting, viewing, reading and writing. (communication skills)

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Students were asking questions, planning, observing, recording data and interpreting findings. (research skills)

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Math

Students were exploring the exchange of money.

img_0990Students were experimenting with lines and angles.

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Students were engaging with measurement.

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Students were playing with patterns.

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Students were manipulating shapes and spaces.

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Literacy
Students were writing for authentic purposes.

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Students were writing for creative purposes.

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Students were consuming texts.

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Science

Students were exploring states of liquids and solids.

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Students were observing the processes of boiling and evaporation.

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Students were inquiring into chemical reactions.

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Students were playing with properties of movement and motion.

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Humanities

Students were reflecting on and changing their choices of materials and processes to minimize their impact on the environment.

From using new paper to protect a space, to using already-used paper…

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From using tissue to tidy up a mess, to using a reusable cloth…

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From buying new things to use, to repurposing things we already have…

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From using disposable wipes to wash hands, to using soap and water…

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From pouring out water when the bottle is needed, to moving it to another container…

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Reflections…

To make sure that the connections weren’t only explicit to me, at the end of the day students reflected on the learning that was happening.

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I’m glad Creativity Thursdays have turned out to be such a success! And although I try to allow for and encourage creativity in all of the regular learning that we do, I think it is important to carve out some protected time purely for the development of student’s creativity as well.

… especially when doing so seems to lead to so much thinking, wondering, imagining, exploring and discovering! 

A Different Approach to Reading Buddies

In the past I have always partnered up my students with another class and once a week we did “reading buddies”. Students would read with their buddy and it was wonderful.

However, this year I wanted to put all the decision making in the hands of my students and I realized that if I organized reading buddies with another class I was making that decision for them.

So I took a different approach this year…

First, I emailed all of our Pre-K, KG1, KG2 and Grade 1 teachers to who would be interested in having a Grade 4 reading buddy come read with their students. I had about 2-3 teachers from each grade level sign up.

Then, I shared my vision with my students and offered an optional meeting for those students who were interested in being reading buddies this year. About 3/4 of my students attended.

At that point I asked my students which grade they would be most interested working with and matched them up with a teacher. Then I provided each student with their reading buddy teacher’s email address. The students did an amazing job consulting our schedule in order to send an email with possible dates and times.

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Students were clear about how many times they would be willing to come each week. Some students chose once a week, others chose every day. Then they sent of their emails and excitedly waited for a response!

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Once students heard back from the teachers they solidified dates and times. Students have independantly kept track of their scheduled dates and times and done a wonderful job emailing the teacher if a conflict comes up and they are unable to make it.

Now reading buddies is up and running and it has been awesome so far! Sometimes they read to one or two students, sometimes they listen to a younger student reading to them and sometimes they read to the whole class!

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Here are my reflections on this process so far:

  • emailing the teachers provided an amazing authentic opportunity for functional writing
  • students are practicing their fluency and expression when reading to their buddies
  • students are developing their confidence as readers
  •  students are developing empathy and compassion by working with younger children
  • students are developing the organization and time management skills by making and keeping scheduled appointments
  • students are loving every minute of it!

I look forward to watching this progress grow and change as the year unfolds. I’m hoping word will spread and more Grade 4 students will want to become reading buddies and more early year’s teachers will want to host Grade 4 reading buddies!

How Back Channelling Transformed Our Class Read Alouds

During class read alouds it is not uncommon for us teachers to shush our students, redirect them to raise their hand, ask them not to shout out, move their spot on the carpet if they’re talking, give them a hand signal that means stop…

Yet the very thing students are “shouting out” or talking to their friends about, are the very things we are trying to get them to do as readers! So we incessantly shush them when they are organically making a prediction, connection or inference about a story… then later on in the day or week we give them inauthentic reading comprehension activities to try to illicit the very skills we shut down earlier!

So when I started the year this year I vowed not to shut down the thinking that was being shared during a read aloud, but after the first few times refraining from shushing and redirecting I realized 23 students sharing their thinking out loud at the same time made it very difficult for everyone to hear the story.

Then I remembered a post I read about back channeling in the classroom so I decided to give that a try. I was transparent with my students and told them I wanted them to be able to freely share their thinking about the story we were reading, but in order to do that in a way where everyone can still hear the story we will be communicating our thinking not with our voices, but through something called a back channel. We tested out back channeling in a low stakes way by chatting about our Eid vacations.

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Once students were comfortable with back channeling, we tried it out during a read aloud. The results were amazing!

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Students shared their personal connections:

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Students shared their connections with other texts:

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Students shared their opinions:screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-5-07-20-pm

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Students shared predictions:screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-5-07-49-pm

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Students shared inferences:

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At the end of every day I would go through the back channel and document the learning that had taken place. After a few days I had learned SO much about my students as readers:

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Outside of sharing their thinking about stories, it was also great to see student interacting with each other:

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And communicating their meaning with multimodalities – not only words, but using emojis too:

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Now anytime we do a class read aloud, students hop on the back channel! We have also branched out to using a back channel when watching films and analyzing photos. It has been amazing way for student to share their thinking with one another and an amazing way for me to capture their thinking in an organic, authentic way.

I shared this openly with my students. I told them the back channel was allowing me to learn so much about them as readers that we would probably never have to do a “reading comprehension activity” this year.

They cheered.

So did I.

An inquiry into homework…

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It comes as no surprise that the issue of homework in elementary classrooms is quite the hot topic these days. In thinking about starting my year back in the classroom I decided that I – like many other teachers around the world -was going to outlaw homework!

… then I began to reflect on my decision and wondered if choosing for everyone not to have homework, was any better than choosing for everyone to have homework. Either way you slice it, I as the teacher, was the owner of that decision and that was something I was no longer comfortable with in trying to achieve more democratic classroom.

So I decided to take a collaborative approach and invite students and parents in on the decision making. Here is how it went!

Tuning In

Before delving too deep I wanted to tune into what students already thought about homework. So I posted “agree”, “disagree”, “sometimes” and “I’m not sure” around our classroom and I projected the following quote:

“Homework is essential to learning”

There were a range of responses and as students shared the reasoning behind their opinions, many students shifted from one group to the next.

Provocation 

Then I invited students to watch this Alfie Kohn interview to provoke their thinking about homework. They backchannelled throughout the video to share their thoughts, questions and connections.

Finding Out

After that, I told them that they would be deciding if they had homework – together with their families – but in order to make an informed decision we had to explore all the perspectives surrounding homework. To help with this we used to Visible Thinking Routine – Circle of Viewpoints.

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Then we divided into teams that would each inquire into a different perspective. Each team had a different approach to collecting data:

The “student” team posted a Twitter poll and collected tallies at recess.

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The “parent” team sent a Google Form home to all the parents.

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The “teacher” team walked around the school and collected quotes from teachers about homework.

The “administrator” team sent the principal, assistant principal and superintendent an email.

The “media” team explored articles and videos I shared with them.

The “other schools” team browsed this school’s blog about their homework inquiry.

The “our school” team looked at the homework policy in the school handbook.

Sorting Out

Once all the teams had their data they had to go through it and decide what was important, what was worth taking note of and how they were going to consolidate and display it.

Some wrote a summary:

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Others used graphs:

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Some used statistics:

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Others used quotes:

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Some used hyeperlinks:

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Others used photos:

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Making Conclusions

Then we put it all together and emailed this Google Slideshow home to our families. From there, families explored all the perspectives together and made a decision about whether or not they wanted homework in Grade 4.

Final results: 9 chose homework 14 chose no homework

Taking Action

I pulled together the 9 students that opted to have homework this year and together we used the Start With Why framework to make a plan.

First students focused on why they wanted homework, then how they wanted it to work, then finally what specifically they would do to accomplish those goals.

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Some students made themselves choice boards:

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Other students planned out each night of the week:

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Next, I provided feedback about their plan and then they brought it home to get feedback from their parents as well.

Now we are finally ready to put these differentiated, student-led, family supported homework plans into action!

My Reflections

  • there was so much math and literacy in this inquiry
  • it was a great way to explore the concept of perspective
  • the format allowed for students to express their discovers using new literacies and multimodalities
  • the parents were amazing partners in this inquiry

Now that it is all over, I can rest assured that the students and families who want homework have it and the students and families who don’t want homework don’t have it. Everyone is happy and the ownership and control rests with the learners themselves… as it always should.

Best. First Month of School. Ever.

So the first month of school has come and gone… and what a month it was! Yet I have to admit, I had an internal struggle. The teachery teacher side of me kept saying “Hurry up! Move along! There is content to get to! You are behind your team! Report cards are coming!” While the inquiry-teacher side of me kept saying “Slow down. What’s the rush? Follow your students. Notice the learning that is happening everyday.” Thankfully the second voice won out, in large part because I kept constantly referring back to Finland’s model of easing into  the school year as a source of inspiration and reassurance.

So here is sneak peak of how my students and I spent our first month together:

Who We Are

We inquired into relationships…

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We inquired into each other…

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Sharing the Planet

We inquired to rights and responsibilities of students and children…

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We inquired into types of conflict, sources of conflict and solutions for solving conflict peacefully…

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We inquired into problem finding and problem solving…

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How We Organize Ourselves

We inquired into how to set up our learning space…

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We inquired into how homework will work this year…

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We inquired into our classroom schedule, systems, and jobs…

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We inquired into back to school night…

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How We Express Ourselves

We inquired into expressing ourselves on Twitter…

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We inquired into expressing ourselves on our class blog…

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We inquired into communicating through a backchannel…

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We inquired into communicating with each other via email…

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How the World Works

We inquired into why and how humans learn…

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Where We Are in Place and Time

We inquired into why, how and what we learn at our school… image

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We inquired into our perspectives at the moment about schools, teachers, reading, writing, math and UOI….

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We inquired into ourselves as learners…

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…. and sometimes we threw out the plans to follow student-generated inquiries! (Like water bottle flipping, why the Maldives are sinking, palindromes and the life of Ruby Bridges)

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All throughout our first month together I intentionally looked for learning throughout the day and documented it each night. I have learned so much about my students not only as readers, writers, mathematicians and inquirers… but also as humans.

Just for fun, I thought about everything that has happened this past month and wondered how many curricular expectations were authentically explored throughout our various inquiries… to satisfy the slowly disappearing teachery-teacher side of me… and anyone else who might ask!

Here is what I discovered:

Social Studies

Concepts – systems, community, relationships, perspective, choice, transformation, rights, democracy

C1.4.4 explain how groups of people make rules to create responsibilities to protect a safe environment.

C1.4.6 describe ways in which people benefit from and are challenged by working together, including through government, workplaces, voluntary organizations, and families.

C2.4.3 identify appropriate deliberative processes when making decisions or reaching judgments as a group.

C3.4.3 explain how procedures are developed to address community problems.

E1.4.1 identify the benefits and costs of individual choices.

G1.4.1 construct maps and other graphic representations of both familiar and unfamiliar places.

G1.4.2 use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions.

Science 

Concepts – systems, balance, interdependence, behaviour

PS3.4.1 use evidence to construct an explanation relating the speed of an object to the energy of that object.

ED1.3-5.1 define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

ED1.3-5.3 plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Reading

Concepts – meaning, perspective,  opinion

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.4.7
Make connections between the text of a story or drama and a visual or oral presentation of the text, identifying where each version reflects specific descriptions and directions in the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.7
Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.4.3
Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.4.10
By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.10
By the end of year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

Writing

Concepts – audience, presentation, responding, text

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.2
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.5
With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1-3 up to and including grade 4 here.)
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.6
With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.7
Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.10
Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Communication

Concepts – message, meaning, audience, purpose

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.1
Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.5
Add audio recordings and visual displays to presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.6
Differentiate between contexts that call for formal English (e.g., presenting ideas) and situations where informal discourse is appropriate (e.g., small-group discussion); use formal English when appropriate to task and situation. (See grade 4 Language standards 1 here for specific expectations.)

Math

Concepts – data, number, statistics, interpretation, measurement, estimation

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.OA.A.3
Solve multistep word problems posed with whole numbers and having whole-number answers using the four operations, including problems in which remainders must be interpreted.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.NBT.A.2
Read and write multi-digit whole numbers using base-ten numerals, number names, and expanded form. Compare two multi-digit numbers based on meanings of the digits in each place, using >, =, and < symbols to record the results of comparisons.
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.NBT.A.3
Use place value understanding to round multi-digit whole numbers to any place.
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.MD.A.1
Know relative sizes of measurement units within one system of units including km, m, cm; kg, g; lb, oz.; l, ml; hr, min, sec.
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.MD.A.2
Use the four operations to solve word problems involving distances, intervals of time, liquid volumes, masses of objects, and money, including problems involving simple fractions or decimals, and problems that require expressing measurements given in a larger unit in terms of a smaller unit.
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.MD.A.3
Apply the area and perimeter formulas for rectangles in real world and mathematical problems.

ICT

Creating –  learners are provided with an opportunity to innovate and test boundaries. Learners construct meaning, apply critical thinking and original ideas to real-world situations, and share knowledge through self-expression

Communicating –  exchange of information with various audiences using a range of media and formats.

Collaborating –  Learners are empowered through digital media and environments and through active participation in creating and sharing knowledge.

Organizing –  Learners make connections, transfer existing knowledge and independently explore new technologies.

Becoming responsible digital citizens –  using ICT to make informed and ethical choices while acting with integrity and honesty. In a globally connected digital world, learners are empowered to be responsible for their actions, to value others’ rights and to practise safe and legal behaviours.

PSPE

  • recognize that others have emotions, feelings and perspectives that may be different • from their own
  • solve problems and overcome difficulty with a sense of optimism
  • analyze how they are connected to a wider community
  • reflect on their own cultural influences, experiences, traditions, and perspectives and are open to those of others
  • identify casual relationships and understand how they impact the experience of individuals and groups
  • independently use strategies to resolve conflict
  • work towards a consensus, understanding the need to negotiate and compromise
  • reflect on their experiences in order to build a deeper understanding of self

One month… no “school work”… but lots of learning!